Eighth Amendment and disability

 

Sir, – On January 23rd, an article appeared in The Irish Times highlighting the fact that a pro-life lobby group called Love Both is using an image of a little girl with Down syndrome (DS) on campaign pamphlets which are being distributed to households. This has come in addition to a number of references appearing in the media over the past few days where campaigners on both sides of the debate are using people with DS to present their views.

This is very disrespectful to both children and adults with DS and their families. It is also causing a lot of stress to parents. People with DS should not be used as an argument for either side of this debate.

Down Syndrome Ireland believes that it is up to each individual to make their own decision about which way to vote in the upcoming referendum.

We are respectfully asking both sides of the campaign debate, all political parties and any other interested groups to stop exploiting children and adults with DS to promote their campaign views.

We would also like to remind campaigners on both sides of the debate that people with Down syndrome listen to the news and read media articles, including social media content. We ask that the tone of the debate is respectful towards all people with disabilities. As always, Down Syndrome Ireland will continue to support people with Down syndrome and their families throughout Ireland. If people with Down syndrome and their families require any support, please contact us on 01- 4266500 or visit the website downsyndrome.ie. – Yours, etc,

GARY OWENS,

Chief Executive,

Down Syndrome Ireland,

Unit 3,

Park Way House,

Western Parkway

Business Park,

Ballymount Drive,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – In an article in The Irish Times on 6January 6th, I described how the Joint Oireachtas Committee proposals open the door to abortion for disability.

A group of academics, in a letter on January 22nd, expressed “dismay” at the article but advanced no principled objection to the choice to abort a disabled child. They only expressed concern about the label of disability as a specific ground for abortion.

Yet if the lives of unborn disabled children are terminated under other grounds that make no specific reference to disability, the damage is done, regardless of the label.

The academics do not, and cannot, deny that the committee’s report facilitates abortion for disability, for the first 12 weeks of the child’s life on the proposed ground that requires no reason to be given and potentially up to birth on the ground equivalent to Ground C of England’s Abortion Act 1967. That the numbers of disabled children aborted in this way may be high or low is scarcely central to the injustice and violation of human rights inherent in the proposals. A child with Downs has as much a right to live as any other child.

I respect the integrity of my fellow academics but I have to acknowledge my dismay at their support for introducing into Irish law an entitlement to terminate the lives of disabled children. – Yours, etc,

WILLIAM BINCHY,

Law Library,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – We have been hearing a lot about how various politicians’ thinking on abortion has “evolved”, invariably in the direction of having fewer and fewer legal protections for unborn humans. Is it any wonder then, that talk of putting the rights of those fragile sisters and brothers of ours into the sole hands of future Oireachtas members sounds much more like a threat to many of us than any kind of reassurance? – Yours, etc,

MARGARET HOGAN,

Kilkenny.

Sir, – Senator Rónán Mullen’s claim that children with Down syndrome in Ireland are more cherished than in many other countries falls flat against the backdrop of this news paper’s headline “Review of 500 cases of children in care with disabilities” (January 15th) in an article with regard to the case of Molly, a child with DS who was abandoned at birth and had not been receiving remotely sufficient support from HSE and Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

As a parent of a son with Down syndrome, I recognise that the choices for a parent or parents pertaining to a pregnancy with a “Down syndrome diagnosis” are far more complex than what the anti-abortion campaign might portray and that statistics would suggest or indeed that society in general might perceive.

In a post-Eighth Amendment world, the availability and reliability of appropriate support for both the baby and the family unit, a demonstrated genuine respect for the “family challenge” involved (well beyond platitudes such as “Aren’t they a blessing to any family”) and the confirmation of the dignity and parity of esteem of citizens with Down syndrome in our society, will set the reality for those faced with the difficult decisions inherent in a pregnancy with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL GANNON,

Kilkenny.

Sir, – I write in relation to Senator Rónán Mullen’s recent comments on the Love Both campaign.

According to Mr Mullen, we have a culture that “cherishes” children with DS. Is this the same culture that writes frequently to my family enquiring as to whether my sister does still indeed have DS? The culture that results in mainstream schools attempting to force my sister into special education? The culture that means that several of my sister’s peers struggle to communicate because they’ve never been able to access the therapies and resources that they need?

I would be interested to hear what Mr Mullen would suggest that a woman with DS (barely able to support herself given the limited state support she receives), ought to do if she finds herself in a crisis pregnancy? – Yours, etc,

MILO DUNNE,

Dublin 2.